International Travel Guide
"Do I need a visa?"
"What do I say to the customs officer?"
"Can I bring my work laptop with me?"
If you travel out of the country for business purposes—to a company meetup or a professional conference—or even on a family vacation with your work laptop, you're facing up to questions about business visitor visas, customs, and border security.
We have answers!
Traveling to the US
We'll focus on traveling to the US since attending company meetups is our primary reason for international business travel.
Here's what you need:
- A passport! Apply for one now if you don't have one already. Renew now if your passport expires in the next six months.
- A travel visa or waiver.
- An invitation letter that substantiates the purpose of your travel.
- Your hotel address and contact info.
- A security checklist for your laptop and phone. Clearing work data from your devices is required before crossing the border.
You need a visa (or a waiver!) to authorize travel to the US.
Canadian passport holders don't need a visa to enter the US for non-paid business events. Passport and government ID are all that's required.
Visa Waiver Program
If your country participates in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), then you can apply for an ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) within 3 days of travel. The ESTA is valid for 2 years.
B-1 Business Visitor Visa
If your country does not participate in the Visa Waiver Program or you are not eligible for an ESTA, you'll need to apply for a B-1 business visitor visa… the long way.
We'll work with you through this process. Start early, as soon as we have dates for a meetup or conference. Visa appointments and processing can take weeks to months. Ping Andrea as soon as you know that you'll need a visa.
Trusted Traveler Programs
Border screening is slow and stressful every time. "Trusted traveler" programs expedite and bypass some screening. Citizens of some countries are eligible for Global Entry and Canadians are eligible for NEXUS. These programs are completely optional but may make life a little easier, at the cost of onerous biometric scans like fingerprinting (for Global Entry and NEXUS) and iris scanning (for NEXUS).
Note: An ESTA is still required for travel; these programs just speed up entry.
To substantiate the purpose of your travel, we can provide an unofficial invitation letter that states that you're traveling to the US for a business meeting and not to do work.
"Doing business"—e.g. attending a business meeting or conference—is allowed under the business visitor visa (and visa waiver), but "doing work" is not. That'd require a temporary work visa.
Company Security at the Border
When you enter the US, you may be asked to unlock your phone or laptop for search, possibly exposing sensitive company data like source code, passwords, and customer account data. Yikes! We need to take some precautionary measures to safeguard our data.
(What's a work device? Anything you have company data on: your laptop where you work with Basecamp source code; your tablet where you read Basecamp email; your phone where you use the Basecamp app; etc.)
TL;DR: Don't Travel With Work Data
- If you don't need your work laptop (or tablet/phone), don't bring it with you!
- Wipe company data from your phone before crossing the border. Restore it afterward.
Checklist: Before You Travel
- Let us know! Share your travel plans and when you expect to arrive in the US.
- Update your ESTA online with your travel info and the hotel address: Ace Hotel, 311 N Morgan St., Chicago, IL 60607.
- Ensure you have your passport, ESTA, invitation letter, and travel details all in order.
- Put Andrea and our attorney on speed dial.
- If you run into general travel issues or have any questions, contact Andrea LaRowe.
- If you're detained or encounter some other serious customs headache, contact our attorney directly: Jennifer Pflanz (get phone number from Andrea). Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is not required to allow you to contact an attorney, but Jennifer is your first call if possible.
- Check that your personal 1Password vault doesn't have any work logins. If it does, move them to the Basecamp team vault instead. You have a personal vault inside the Basecamp team which is perfect for those logins.
- Turn on Travel Mode. Go to https://basecamp.1password.com/profile and click Enable Travel Mode.
- Open 1Password on each device you're traveling with (laptop, phone, iPad, etc) so it can wipe its data while it's in Travel Mode.
- Email apps
- If you use an email app rather than Gmail in your browser, remove the @basecamp.com account.
- Clear browser cookies, logging you out of all work sites.
- Basecamp source code.
- Make an encrypted archive of your Basecamp git repos so you can download and restore it after you're through customs.
- Delete all Basecamp source code from your laptop.
- Other sensitive documents.
- Same deal as source code. Make an encrypted backup and remove from your laptop.
- Log out of Dropbox and disconnect.
- Touch ID (optional)
- Unlocking your device can be compelled at US border crossings, but other countries may be less intrusive, so it may make sense to make your device a little harder to unlock.
- Disable Touch ID on your phone, tablet, and laptop. Require a passcode/password to unlock.
Checklist: At Customs
- Have your passport, ESTA, invitation letter, and hotel address ready.
- Ensure your devices are charged up and turned on. Customs may balk at a bricked phone or laptop.
- Common questions:
- Purpose of your visit? Here for a business meeting in Chicago.
- Here to do work? Nope! Here on business, meeting with Basecamp.
- Where are you staying? Ace Hotel, 311 N Morgan St., Chicago, IL 60607. Front desk: +1 312 764 1919.
- Be straighforward and truthful. You're legit! No need to be cagey or misleading.
Checklist: When You Arrive
- Let us know! Mention in the meetup Campfire when you're through customs and have arrived in the US.
- Touch ID: Reenable on your phone, tablet, and laptop.
- Dropbox: Log in and reconnect, but only if needed during travel.
- Basecamp app: Reinstall on your phone, tablet, and laptop.
- 1Password: Turn off Travel Mode. Go to https://basecamp.1password.com/profile and click Disable Travel Mode. Next time you open 1Password, you'll have full access again.
- Email apps: Add your @basecamp.com account again.
- Basecamp source code: Download and restore the archive of your Basecamp git repos, but only if needed during travel.
- Other sensitive documents: Download and restore, but only if needed during travel.
Checklist: When You Return
- Same as when you travel! Repeat the checklists for any border crossing, whether into or out of the US.
Hitting a snag or have any questions? Ping Jeremy or Andrea and we can help.
You're welcome to edit and improve this document yourself, too. Please do!